beginning again, another “no groceries challenge”

There’s no crisis here; work is steady and strong so my cash flow should continue improving. That said, as so many Americans are, I’m one bad tooth or broken down car away from not having enough money to pay bills [side note: That link is to a Forbes piece that’s saying a Salon piece is wrong about Americans not having enough in savings. The Forbes guy says “most have credit for emergencies.” I won’t discuss here why that’s a terrible argument, but it is surely terrible.].

In the name of paying off my new debt that I gained and to rebuild my savings that I lost last year—due to oral health needs and a car repair, no less—I’m going to start another no groceries challenge.

A pattern has emerged as I choose to take on these challenges: At first, I use what I have on hand more efficiently. I have more of a tolerance for leftovers. And, I do more meal planning. Staying away from the supermarket entirely brings me to ask frequently, “do I really need that, or do I just want it?” After a time, as I begin going back to the market for fruit or fresh veggies, I start picking up one or two things that would be handy to have. A jar of tomato sauce for when I’m out of my supply of freezer sauces, fancy cookies for school lunches because it’d just be “nice for the girls.”

I slip down the slope until I’m back where I was before. I don’t really use what’s in my pantry, I forget to keep track of what’s in the freezer that’s usable, and I don’t “let myself take the time” for meal planning because it feels too decadent.

The decision to do this latest challenge — for those of you unfamiliar with it, I see how long I can go without going to the grocery store at all — was a bit impulsive. I haven’t done any planning. It’s a little bit more like the “real” one I faced a few years ago when I simply didn’t have the money for groceries, although it’s really not at all like that because I’m not terrified.

Posting about it on my blog seems to be part of my ritual for these challenges, so, here we are. I’m posting about it. Now I’m going to put the extra cabbages I got into cold storage, put the extra cheese into the freezer, and “let myself” figure out meals for the next week or so. Ta-dah!

vulva. vulva. VULVA (not vagina!)!

In my late 30s (in the early 2000s), the Houston Press hired me to write a review of a play showing in Austin, The Vagina Monologues. By now, most people have heard of the play, I’d imagine.

Guess what I found out as I watched the play? I found out that my vagina isn’t my vagina. That is, the vagina is actually the soft tunnel that leads from the outside of a female’s body up to the cervix (which leads to the uterus).

A vagina is not, it turned out the whole squishy area on the outside. That, I learned, is called the vulva.

Did you know that?

A lot of people, full grown adults, don’t know that. In fact, I’d venture to guess a lot of people will find the word “vulva” very silly sounding.

I was in my 30s. I was an adult. I didn’t know the name of my own body parts. I was not alone.

Why does this matter? Why am I writing about it?

I’m writing about it because this kind of knowledge is power. I saw an article recently advocating for using proper names for body parts when teaching children. You know, instead of hoo-ha or pee-pee, use the correct language. It was a good piece. But, guess what? It referred to the female parts as “the vagina!” Even an article stressing the value of naming body parts correctly got it wrong!

It winds me up because we women (cisgender) are encouraged to live in ignorance. How can we accept ourselves unconditionally when we don’t even know ourselves?

I’ll end with this post I saw recently that I think illustrates my point well:

“Imagine if male genitals were treated like female genitals? Like testicles weren’t even referred to as testicles and some men didn’t even know what they were actually called and the general area was just called “penis”.

Imagine if boys were told that their prostate doesn’t exist. Imagine if hairy genitals on men were called “bearded snakes.” And they don’t know how many different holes they have until adulthood. Imagine.

imagine if men were flocking en mass to get “testicle tightening” surgeries.  imagine if men weren’t taught that they could have orgasms.  Imagine if it were considered rude to say “penis” even in debates regarding legislature involving medical care about men’s penises.  Imagine penis was a word that was considered too “dirty” to be said on television. Imagine if penis’s were depicted only as meat-sticks that fit in vaginas with no other value.  Imagine if teenage boys heard joke after joke about how all dicks smell terrible no matter what

Imagine if people thought the more a penis was used, the smaller and more useless it became.

Imagine if people didn’t understand how penises ‘work’ and therefore their orgasms didn’t matter.

Imagine if having a penis meant you were paid less money.”

no groceries challenge (October-November) update

In October, I spent $150.02 on groceries. Some people will see this as not much money, some will think it’s a lot. Regardless, my “no groceries challenge” has been successful thus far for a lot of reasons. Most important to me, beyond the money savings, is my return to awareness of and appreciations for the freedoms that come with having “enough” money.

Every time I think about this voluntary activity, I’m reminded of what it was like when I literally—and I mean literally—had less than $10 to my name. No credit. No cash. That level of financial crisis didn’t last very long for me, but it made an impression. Part of why I do these “no groceries challenges” is so I’ll remember what that was like; when there was no choice.

I spent $70 at the start of October to stock up so my no groceries challenge would last longer. A few bags of flour, for example, and bags of dry beans, and milk, and bacon, and almond milk, and chocolate…

What I hadn’t thought about was the impact being “without” money for groceries can have on our social life. We had friends visit us at my parents’ summer place and I wanted to feed our friends. They all chipped in, too, and my parents were fine with my using stuff they already had on hand. But what about people who don’t have the money to buy food for friends? My friend is coming from out of town tonight, and I’ve talked to her about this no groceries challenge. She knows about it, but I got upset and anxious because I wanted to try and keep going — how can I be a good host if I need to use only what I have on hand?

Of course, I could do it. I’ve been feeding my children just fine, thanks to the freezer, the pantry, and a lot of talent and creativity in the kitchen. My friend also understands and asked if I’d mind if she got herself some things in support of my decision to avoid grocery shopping.

Over the course of the month, I got cider and cinnamon sticks (for the Halloween gathering with friends) and I got milk and yoghurt. I must have gotten other items, made other “exceptions” beyond fruits and/or fresh veggies? to have a balance as “high” as $150.

shopping listI’ve decided to stock up again, today. I’m still considering it a no-groceries challenge because after this I will go back to not going at all. I’ll buy the items on this list, which includes some green tea and heavy cream for my friend, and then we’ll hunker back down again and not go to the grocery store for as long as possible. I’ll get a small turkey, or maybe even a chicken, and some cranberries for our Thanksgiving — I can make the rest of the meal with what we have.

It’s now an intellectual exercise borne of necessity, but avoiding “grocery shopping” like this continues to open my eyes to many issues: efficient use of our food, the impact of poverty on social lives, what are our family’s values? So, it’s not truly “no groceries,” but it’s still a challenge from which I’m learning a lot.

another suggestion for white people who want to be not racist

After I read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, my conversations about racism with my children (we’ve had such conversations since they were able to talk) were much more informed. I don’t believe in sugar-coating the real world, or glossing over truths that make some people uncomfortable. Of course, I do want my children to live in a world that feels safe and I want them to have hope. How deeply I go depends on the moment, how ready my daughters seem, and whether or not I can get myself to shut up.

One thing I tell my daughters is I will always prefer stating my opinion and offending rather than staying quiet when it’s a time for me to speak. They know I write a newspaper column and they know people don’t agree with things I say. In particular, I wrote a column about racism in the Bangor Daily News that starts with two overtly racist and ignorant statements. The intention was some shock value and that may have been a stylistic mistake. The column wasn’t a mistake, though.

Adding to the theme I set out in that first column and in “Ending racism: What White People Can Do,” I want to add this suggestion for white people who, like me, haven’t spent much time with people of color. As I’ve said in my columns and in this blog, I believe a lot of why interpersonal micro-level racism sticks around is because authentic communication is limited by white people’s desperate desire to be not racist.

Does this sound familiar? You feel mildly awkward talking to a person of color and are really angry at yourself for the mild awkwardness but you can’t figure out why you feel weird and you really want to not feel weird because you know there’s no reason to and no matter what you say or do you can’t seem to just be a regular person because you’re so self-conscious about your mild awkwardness and it all becomes a stuttering hyper-friendly over-the-top polite exchange. If it sounds familiar and you hate it, I have a suggestion for you:

Go to twitter, or other social media sites. Do this when you are alone. Search for the hashtag “blackoutday.” Spend time looking at the pictures. Then, look some more. See the variety of people? Look! There’s no awkwardness as you look, the pictures are there for anyone to see.

In the late 80s, I started learning that black and brown people can’t fix my own personal racism, and it’s not their job to tell me what I can or should do. What I do, instead, is look at my own racism—as I tell my daughters, I believe all white people are racist because we benefit from our systems that are inherently racist (we discuss prejudice and bigotry, too, which are different)—and work on it. After all this time, I was surprised that looking at the #blackoutday pictures was such an eye opener for me. The images are powerful and beautiful and surprising. (Tip: just look, don’t try to be involved in the hashtag. It’s not a white people thing.)

Get that awkward staring and fascination that you may experience and so desperately want to resist when you’re with another human being out in meat space. You can help yourself realize that there is an infinite number of different ways to “look black.” It can help you relax and just be with people of color without struggling to be not awkward, or “not racist.”

with all this time

In less than two months, I’ve learned a few things about having all this extra time now that both of my daughters are in school five days a week:

  • Everyone I talk to thinks about how much time they have, don’t have, how they could use it better, how best to manage it;
  • Because I allow myself time for tasks that previously fell much lower down on my priorities list, I’m more busy than before both girls were in school;
  • My too-busy is stressful, but it’s at a more mindful pace than when I had at least one kiddo with me most of the time;
  • The chronic health issues I’ve dealt with over the years might have been expressions of the physical and emotional stress that came with trying to make a living while single parenting non-school-age children (tbd);
  • Having time available to contemplate how to best manage my time is a significant improvement in my life;
  • I think about—I’m an introvert in the extreme, so I don’t act on this much—having a personal life beyond the survival level;
  • Self-care is rising on my priorities list.

Anxiety over finances has me considering a new no groceries challenge. With 3-5 school lunches x2 each week it would be a much more significant challenge. Perhaps a modified version…

(Just a “checking in” blog post to stop the darned spammers from thinking this site is inactive!)